Last Sunday the pastor of one of our churches taught a Sunday school class, preached a sermon and went Christmas caroling. Monday he said goodbye to his wife with a hug and a kiss as she was baking Christmas cookies and went to meet a friend for lunch. As he was getting out of his car, he suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead at the emergency room of the nearest hospital. The pastor was 69 years old and the week before he had been a good report on his annual physical.
Everyone was in shock, his family, his congregation, the entire community. The pastor and his wife had only been at the church for 18 months but they were very loved. I had done one funeral with him and I was impressed. He delivered the word of the Gospel but he didn’t “preach”. I experienced him to be a warm, kind, loving man and looked forward to working with him again at another funeral. I never expected it to be his funeral.
Ministers don’t make a lot of money. For that reason and for the reason that this was not the time to make a hasty decision on a final resting place (the family had lived in many places), the family knew that cremation would be best. Of course a “direct cremation” with an urn for a memorial service would be the least expensive route. But I could not let that happen. This man who had spent so many, many Sundays of his life in church deserved to have his body taken to church one last time. I realize that most Christians believe that at death one is “absent from the body, present with the Lord” but I believe as Thomas Lynch says, “A funeral without the body, is like a wedding without the bride.”
So today, on Sunday, the pastor will return to the church in a “ceremonial casket” for one last funeral. Tomorrow he will be removed from this casket and sent to the crematory in an alternative container-aka heavy cardboard box.
Today will be a very emotional day for everyone. There will be a great deal of sadness as his presence was a strong one and will be greatly missed. Yet he would be the first one to tell us that it should be a day of celebration. His beliefs were pure and he is home with his Lord.
Though I really didn’t know this man, I am grateful to have shared the brief moments that I did with him. I am very grateful to be able to help his family and our community by taking him to church one last time.